3 Keys to Mental Toughness in Cycling
Mental toughness in training is one of the hardest things to manage. There are days on the bike where everything feels great, your mentally motivated, enjoying the ride. There are also going to be days when you need to drag yourself onto the seat and work hard to make it happen. Bike racing brings another challenge to the mental game, especially for the longer distance and ultra distance events. Ultra events that last all day or multi day events can have you questioning yourself, debating why you like to train and race. Mental toughness not only happens on the bike, it’s also a factor on days off the bike where you are tired, and not motivated for the next day’s workout. Let’s discuss three key tips for keeping your mind on track and focusing on training ahead.
Training fatigue can lead to mental fatigue, irritability, loss of focus and lack of motivation. Overreaching, which is commonly used within a training season, is essentially the first phase of overtraining. When over trained it can take weeks or months to recover from to press on with more training. With Overreaching you’re not as fatigued, and recovery times are within a week or two to feel 100% again.
Knowing when fatigue is elevated in training is important and the only way to know is to assess your dashboard of metrics. When it comes to heart rate and cycling power, decoupling is an indicator of fatigue. When feeling great, well rested and in peak form, both heart rate and power respond well to intensity such as targeting a zone 4 effort on the bike and reaching the zone with both heart rate and power. As fatigue sets in, heart rate may be slower to respond or remain in a lower zone compared to power. This is decoupling and this can happen with both heart rate and power. There may be times when heart rate is responsive but power lags. This shows a strong aerobic system with good cardiac output but with lower power due to muscle fatigue. When decoupling is happening consistently over many days through a training week, it’s as sign of greater fatigue. This is when it’s important to manage your mental and gain some mental toughness as mentally you could be experiencing more irritability, loss of focus and more. Its important to recognize where you’re at in training so you can push through the current week, and then seek rest with a reduction in training to unload training stress. Once rested, the mental fatigue will disappear, and a motivated mind will return.
When you daydream, it’s good to do it in an unrealistic way. Dreaming of an upcoming bike race or a big block of training where you are riding so strong you can’t feel your legs, and you’re passing everyone up a hill. Dreaming that you finish the race with a smile on your face, and as fresh as you started. Daydreams or visualization sets unrealistic goals in the subconscious. This works to our favor when we are tired, mentally fatigued, pushing limits in a race or even with daily motivation. Our subconscious comes into play in these times pushing us towards that unrealistic goal. This promotes mental toughness in times where it’s hard to get on the bike and train, or late in a race where we are struggling or questioning what we are doing. So have fun and daydream, and do it often, it builds the mental toughness needed in training.
No Big Decisions When Tired
Its not fun being mentally tired, feeling a touch drained and de-motivated on the bike. These times happen in training not only from training itself, but from the combination of life. Stressful times at work, heavy work schedules, family life and training on top of it all add to total stress load during any training block. Life stress is the type of stress that’s not calculated into a training plan but needs to be calculated as part of a coaching plan. Whether you coach yourself or by someone else, recognizing when training stress is high along with life stress is important. In these times its mentally more challenging to get through workouts, finish the workday and more and it takes a level of mental toughness to persevere. Its also easy to get frustrated in these times and look at training with a negative tone. When you find yourself going through a hard week, don’t make any big decisions like quitting training, or even with life decisions. Give it time, wait towards the end of a recovery week to then assess when your mentally clearer. It takes a bit of mental toughness to do this and to trust in this process, but the more you do it, the more you will trust in the right time to make the best decisions about life and training.
If you’re seeking any type of result from training, especially from cycling, you need to push limits at times. Pushing these limits means building training fatigue, a process that needs to happen to be a stronger cyclist. Learning to develop more mental toughness will get you through these times and not only help you in training, but it will also help you in life.
Mike Schultz, CSCS